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Bush to bar use of some land mines, allow others

WASHINGTON -- President Bush will bar the US military from using certain types of land mines after 2010 but will allow forces to continue to employ more sophisticated mines that the administration argues pose little threat to civilians, officials said yesterday.

The new policy, to be announced today, represents a departure from the previous US goal of banning all land mines designed to kill troops. That plan, established by President Clinton, set a target of 2006 for giving up antipersonnel mines, depending on the success of Pentagon efforts to develop alternatives.

Bush, however, has decided to impose no limits on the use of "smart" land mines, which have timing devices to automatically defuse the explosives within hours or days, officials said.

His ban will apply only to "dumb" mines -- those without self-destruct features. But it will cover devices not only aimed at people but also meant to destroy vehicles. In that way, Bush's policy will extend to a category of mines not included in Clinton's plan, which was limited to antipersonnel devices.

Bush will also propose a 50 percent jump in spending, up to $70 million in fiscal 2005, for a program that provides land-mine removal assistance in more than 40 countries, officials said. The program also funds mine-awareness programs abroad and offers some aid to survivors of mine explosions.

A senior State Department official, who disclosed Bush's decision on condition he not be named, said the new policy aims at striking a balance between the Pentagon's desire to retain effective weapons and humanitarian concerns about civilian casualties caused by unexploded bombs, which can remain hidden long after battlefields return to peaceful use.

The safety problem stems from dumb bombs, which kill as many as 10,000 civilians a year, the official said. Smart bombs, he added, "are not contributors to this humanitarian crisis."

Bush's decision drew expressions of outrage and surprise from representatives of humanitarian groups that have pressed for a more comprehensive US ban on mines. They say the danger to civilians and allied soldiers during and after a war outweighs the benefits of such weapons. They also dispute the contention that unexploded smart mines are safe, saying there isn't enough evidence. "We expected we wouldn't be pleased by the president's decision, but we hadn't expected a complete rejection of what has been US policy for the past 10 years," said Steve Goose, who heads the arms division of Human Rights Watch.

"It looks like a victory for those in the Pentagon who want to cling to outmoded weapons, and a failure of political leadership on the part of the White House. And it is stunningly at odds with what's happening in the rest of the world, where governments and armies are giving up these weapons."

The Pentagon maintains a stockpile of about 18 million land mines, including 15 million of the newer, self-destructing kinds. The US arsenal of 10.4 million antipersonnel mines is third in size, after those held by China and Russia. But the United States has not used land mines in combat since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

In 1994, Clinton called for an eventual end to use of antipersonnel mines. But he declined to endorse a 1997 treaty that 150 other countries have joined. It banned the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines.

Instead, Clinton restricted use of dumb mines to US forces in South Korea. In 1998, he instructed the Pentagon to develop alternatives to antipersonnel mines and envisioned the possibility of banning all such weapons in 2006.

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